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We derive the species-area relationship (SAR) expected from an assemblage of fractally distributed species. If species have truly fractal spatial distributions with different fractal dimensions, we show that the expected SAR is not the classical power-law function, as suggested recently in the literature. This analytically derived SAR has a distinctive shape that is not commonly observed in nature: upward-accelerating richness with increasing area (when plotted on log-log axes). This suggests that, in reality, most species depart from true fractal spatial structure. We demonstrate the fitting of a fractal SAR using two plant assemblages (Alaskan trees and British grasses). We show that in both cases, when modelled as fractal patterns, the modelled SAR departs from the observed SAR in the same way, in accord with the theory developed here. The challenge is to identify how species depart from fractality, either individually or within assemblages, and more importantly to suggest reasons why species distributions are not self-similar and what, if anything, this can tell us about the spatial processes involved in their generation.
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